The Faces of Racism - Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

The Faces of Racism - Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a black Baptist minister. Not only that, he was a hugely influential political activist in the United States and one of America’s greatest oral speakers.

King was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the middle child of three, with an older sister, Willie Christine, and younger brother, Albert Daniel. He attended Morehouse College at the age of fifteen, after skipping the ninth and twelfth grades, not even officially graduating. He took a BA degree in sociology from Morehouse in 1948. In 1951, he began attending Boston University, on June 5, 1955, took his Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology.

At the age of twenty-four, in 1953, King became a pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Two years later - December first, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for not obeying the Jim Crow laws, and refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began soon after led by King. The boycott lasted for three hundred and eighty-two days and the situation became so tense that King’s house was bombed. King was arrested during this period, and his case was eventually taken to US Supreme Court. The decision was made to outlaw racial segregation on all public transportation. King adhered fervently to Mahatma Ghandi’s philosophies on non-violent civil disobedience - that is, speaking his mind while remaining passive.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began wiretapping King in 1961, fearing Communists trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement. No such evidence was revealed, but after six years of tapping King’s communication, they attempted to force him out of his preeminent leadership position.

King’s famous I Have A Dream speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

In 1964, Martin Luther King was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him for his nonviolent means of fighting prejudice in the United States.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1948, at 6:01 in the evening. He was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been shot in the throat and was proclaimed dead at 7:05 pm at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Two months after his death, James Earl Ray was captured at London’s Heathrow Airport. He was sentenced to a 99-year prison term after confessing to the assassination of one of America’s most influential characters.

Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a black Muslim minister and National Spokesman for the Nation Of Islam. He founded the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

He was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in North Omaha, Nebraska. He was the fourth child of eight. Of these eight, Malcolm was the lightest of skin and hair - his nickname was ‘Red’ because of the reddish tint to his hair. His mother’s father was white - had raped his grandmother.

In 1946, Malcolm was arrested and sent to prison for eight to ten years, charged with grand larceny and breaking and entering. On August 7, 1952, he received parole and was released from the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown.

Soon after he met Elijah Mohammed, later in ’52, X, still Little at the time, changed his surname to X. He explained his choice like this: X, in mathematics, stands for the unknown. After the slave trade, many of the slave owners gave their slaves their own name. X symbolized the rejection of his ‘slave name’ and the absence of an African name to replace it. Also, many black slaves were branded with an X on their upper arms. Many members of the Nation of Islam had changed their surnames to X.

In the early 1960’s, Malcolm began to hear rumours of Elijah Mohammed’s extra-marital affairs with young secretaries. In the teachings of the Nation of Islam, this is condemned. At first, he ignored these rumours, but upon later speaking with Elijah’s son and the women accusing him, he believed them. In 1963, according to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Mohammed confirmed the rumours to X. Despite this, Malcolm remained faithful to Elijah Mohammed.

March 8, 1964, Malcolm X announced his break from the Nation of Islam and on March 12 announced his founding of the Muslim Mosque, Incorporated.

On April 19, 1964, Malcolm completed his Mecca. It is said that it was here that he came to believe that Islam could erase all racial problems, after seeing Muslims of different races treating each other as equals.

On March 20, 1964, Life Magazine published a picture of Malcolm X holding an M1 Carbine [type of machine gun] and pulling back the curtains to peer through a window. The picture became so famous that it is now printed on t-shirts, most times with the words ‘By any means necessary’.

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was shot in the chest while presenting a speech at Manhattan’s Auduban Ballroom. He was shot by a shotgun, but two other men ran up and shot him fifteen times in the legs. The thirty-nine year old man was pronounced DOA [dead on arrival] at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Although three men were convicted of his murder, many conspiracists believe that it was members of the Nation of Islam who killed him. His funeral was attended by five hundred people. Ossie Davis, alongside Ahmed Osman, delivered a eulogy, describing Malcolm as ‘our shining black prince’. After the ceremony, at the gravesite, friends took shovels from the waiting gravediggers and buried the activist themselves.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were two very different men. X wanted to see racial segregation between black and white people. By any means necessary. He wanted less hate between races, but in his heart, did he really believe that it could happen?

Martin Luther King wanted there to be no segregation. He wanted there to be no hate between people, no more racial anger.

Both men fought for what they believed in. Eventually, they became friends. At least, for the camera they did. Maybe they were just trying to show people that two such radicals can get along. Maybe they were just trying to instill hope in their people.

They were standing up for that which they believed in... as we all should be doing.

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